DNA switch could prevent genetic diseases

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Scientists have developed a technique that could prevent women from passing on several rare and potentially deadly disorders to their children.

In a laboratory test, eggs containing the transplanted DNA got properly fertilised, and many went on to yield healthy human embryos. The latest study is an extension of a 2009 experiment performed by the same team on monkeys.

The monkey experiment was taken one step further and led to live births. In the latest study, published in Nature,  scientists say those animals, now three years old, are alive and well.

“We expect to be in clinical trials in two or three years,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a development biologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., and a lead author of the study, carried out mainly by researchers from OHSU.

The experiment represents a big step toward treating a range of incurable maladies known as mitochondrial disease. Most of a person’s genetic code sits in the nucleus of the cell and is made up of an equal contribution from the father and mother. However, tiny structures floating elsewhere in the cell, known as mitochondria, also contain a few genes that are inherited exclusively from the mother.

Genetic mutations in the mitochondria can spur ailments in various organs. Children can be born suffering severe conditions, including diabetes, deafness, dementia and heart disease.

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